September 14, 2018 Faces

BITEF Boss Fights Right With ‘Elite Theatre for Everybody’

Ivan Medenica, BITEF’s creative director, wants to fight the rise in right-wing populism’ by taking avant-garde theatre to wider audiences.

Ivan Medenica wants to use contemporary theatre to incite wider social debate. Photo: Jelena Jankovic

Srdjan Garcevic

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Ivan Medenica is one of the most accomplished and visible people on the arts scene in Serbia, and, of course, a busy man. The creative director of the Belgrade International Theatre Festival, BITEF, and professor at Belgrade’s Faculty of Dramatic Arts, FDU, is also a noted theatre critic and member of the committee of the International Association of Theatre Critics.

He is also one of the rare figures in Serbian art circles whose professional rather than political or personal pursuits stir up lively debates that reach outside Serbia’s art bubble.

In 2016, when he failed to win a permanent post at the FDU after running and creating one of the most critically acclaimed editions of BITEF in 2015, the media was aflame with debates about the workings of Serbian academia and its frequent displays of professional pettiness and jealousy.

Medenica stirred passions last year as well, when BITEF staged and Serbia’s state television, RTS, broadcast a 24-hour performance of “Mount Olympus”, a celebrated, but avant-garde take on Greek mythology by Jan Fabre, an acclaimed Belgian theatre director.

While part of the Serbian public applauded the idea of staging such an ambitious project in Belgrade, the tabloids were shocked by the nudity and transgressive sexuality displayed in parts of the performance, which one critic from the UK Guardian described as “a theatrical orgy that outdoes Dionysus”.

Rather than shrink from the conservative outcry, Medenica saw it as a way to engage the public beyond BITEF’s traditional intellectual, upper-middle class audience.

“Everybody spoke about the performance. Suddenly, a topic from the arts became a key political and social issue, and that is very important for the arts,” he says.

“Maybe I would have preferred the focus to be on other issues [raised in the performance], not just nudity… I was honestly surprised by how much our society has gone backwards in terms of values and liberties,” he adds.

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Belgrade Insight to be integrated into Balkan Insight

After a 265 issue run, Belgrade Insight, BIRN’s bi-weekly Belgrade-focused English-language newspaper, printed its last paper edition on Friday 21 December, 2018. 

In its decade-long life since 2008, Belgrade Insight sought to bring quality journalism to its readers and subscribers.

Belgrade Insight covered political and economic developments in Serbia, but also told stories about people, businesses and events which shaped a unique and multi-faceted city like Belgrade.

In addition to detailed analysis and coverage of political, economic and business affairs, Belgrade Insight provided its readers with everything that expatriates, short-term visitors and local residents need to know in order to enjoy this great city.

It the past decade, it saw many changes in Serbia’s political and cultural climate: from the deep recession of early 2010s to Serbia’s candidate status in the EU, through Belgrade’s first Eurovision song contest and re-opening of city’s museums.

Although Belgrade Insight will no longer be printed, BIRN journalists and associates will continue their coverage of Belgrade and Serbia through the Balkan Insight website.

For any questions or refunds contact Snezana Caricic (snezana.caricic@birn.eu.com)